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Agreements Hard to Reach on Reviving Mideast Economy at Jordan Conference - 2003-06-23

The special annual meeting of the World Economic Forum has closed in Jordan. Business and political leaders from around the globe met for three days to try to find ways to reinvigorate the flagging economy of the Middle East.

Delegates at the meeting adopted no resolutions and issued no closing statements. The summit was not actually designed to accomplish any concrete goals. What the participants did for three days on the shores of the Dead Sea was talk.

But in a region long plagued by hatred and intolerance, Jordan's King Abdallah believes talking can itself be a breakthrough.

"Our meeting has succeeded in bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to talk," he said. "They spoke about peace and reconciliation, but they also discussed the environment and water. The dialogue affirmed their shared humanity, and shared destiny. These and other discussions helped spur renewed faith among the friends of peace, faith that is needed to usher in a new day in this Holy Land, a day when trust and forgiveness replace discord and animosity."

The meeting did indeed bring Palestinians and Israelis together. Israeli and Palestinian business people mingled in the workshops and the hallways. The Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers shared a stage for more than an hour.

Tempers flared once or twice, but mainly all they did was talk. Israeli-American businesswoman Orit Gadiesh said she hopes the two sides continue doing so.

"In planning for the future in this region, we cannot underestimate the imperative to communicate with each other, to listen to each other, to make ourselves relevant to each other," she said. "And I think, that's why it has been an inspired idea of the World Economic Forum to bring us here to do just that."

Participants agree that much hard work lies ahead before the Middle East can become both peaceful and prosperous. The general consensus was that one thing cannot happen without the other.

Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa warned the delegates that they should not leave the meeting with, "a warm fuzzy feeling."

"So please, take with you from this conference a knowledge that peace is essential to the future of this region. We need it; we want it; we're ready to do it," he said. "But unless real efforts are made by all sides, this will be a meeting where we had our heads in the clouds, but were blinded from what was really going on at our feet."

The World Economic Forum has been meeting every year since 1970 in Davos, Switzerland. However, in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the United States, the group held another special meeting in New York City, in a show of solidarity with the United States.

At that meeting, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the world had entered the new millennium through a gate of fire. At this meeting, he said the terrorist attacks challenged the nations of the world to unite and defeat a common enemy. But he also said it challenged, in his words, our common humanity; and our belief that diversity is a source of wealth and inspiration, and not of fear.

"The gate of fire need not lead into a wasteland. Let our children look back on this time, and say that here, by the shores of the Dead Sea, we entered a living land, a land of hope," he said.

All sides agreed with King Abdallah's closing statement that, in the end, the meeting offered no firm solutions to the region's problems. But he said they have started the journey, one that will end with a better humanity, a richer morality and a more peaceful reality.